Histories and Historical Fictions in the Old English Boethius
Thursday January 29, 2015, at 16.30
The Old English Boethius, probably written by a member of Alfred’s court circle in the 890s, is a translation of the sixth-century Consolation of Philosophy. Although its source is a work of Neoplatonist philosophy, the Boethius displays as much interest in the old stories related in the Consolation as in the nature of fortune or the problem of free will. It treats these stories at length, including both historical accounts (such as Boethius’s life and Nero’s reign) and what it calls “old lying stories” (classical mythological narratives such as Orpheus’s descent into the underworld and Ulysses’s dalliance with Circe). While the Boethius almost always explains the meaning of these stories, the logic of these explanations does not necessarily coincide with the argument of the Consolation. Indeed, these explanations do not necessarily agree even with one another.
What is one to make of these stories? In order to answer this question, this paper will contextualize the Boethius against the literary theory current in ninth-century England. It will argue that the Boethius draws its interpretative theory from exegetical writings and educational texts rather than philosophical discourse, describing how the Boethius reads its source and the ends to which it does so.
Jacob Hobson is a Ph.D. candidate in English and Medieval Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He studies Anglo-Saxon and medieval Scandinavian literature, with a particular interest in medieval literary theory.